Harry P. Pappas, a hugely controversial figure in Union County politics as the Democratic county chairman in the 1970s and as a Springfield Republican township committeeman for one term in the 1990s, will run as a conservative independent candidate for State Assembly in the 21st district.
Pappas will team up with Martin Marks, a former Scotch Plains mayor, in a bid to unseat incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit). They could serve as spoilers in a district that Democrats are already targeting.
“It is a shame that someone like Jon Bramnick who is viewed as a Republican leader in our state has gone out of his way to attack a sitting Republican President and his supporters,” said Marks, now a resident of Cranford. “If he cannot be supportive of a Republican President, Mr. Bramnick should have just kept silent. I wish he would have spent as much time assailing the extraordinarily liberal policies of Governor Murphy as he has going after Donald Trump.”
Marks says that branding himself as a moderate, “Bramnick is simply thumbing his nose at the Conservative New Jersey voters who make up a sizeable bloc of Republicans in this state.”
“I intend to give a voice to the conservative voters of the 21st district,” Marks said.
Marks was the Republican candidate for State Senate in the 22nd district in 2003 and faced then-Union County freeholder Nicholas Scutari after Joseph Suliga (D-Linden) dropped his re-election bid. Scutari won by 3,049 votes, 55%-45%. He ran for Congress in 2008 but finished fourth in the GOP primary, winning 13% of the vote in a race won by Leonard Lance. In 2009, he ran for State Assembly in the 22nd and lost to incumbent Jerry Green (D-Plainfield) by 2,087 votes.
Pappas was elected Union County Democratic in 1978, but won just 34% of the county committee vote when he sought re-election in 1979 against William Maccarelli, then the assistant county counsel. Pappas was the Democratic candidate for State Senate in 1977 against incumbent Peter J. McDonough (R-Plainfield), but lost by a 55%-42% margin.
After switching parties in 1991, Pappas won a seat on the Springfield Township Committee by 65 votes and served one term before losing a bid for freeholder.
“Throughout this campaign we will point out the endless occasions where Bramnick and Munoz have refused to stand up for the conservative principles that are hallmarks of the Republican Party,” Pappas said. “Perhaps the most egregious slap in the taxpayers face was when they were facilitators of the 23 cent per gallon increase in our gas tax. Jon Bramnick championed the passage of the tax increase and voted in favor. Nancy Munoz refused to vote at all after previously voting yes for the gas tax several months earlier.”
Four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Bramnick and Munoz: New Providence Democratic municipal chair Stacey Gunderman, attorneys Jill LaZare and Lisa Mandelblatt, and progressive activist Kyla Rodger.
Democrat Lacey Cotter Rzeszowski came within 1,554 votes of defeating Munoz in 2017.
The 21st district now has 3,607 more Democrats than Republicans, a significant shift since legislative redistricting eight years ago.
In 2011, the 21st had 4,357 more Republicans than Democrats.
Bob Menendez won the district by 837 votes over Bob Hugin in the 2018 U.S. Senate race, while Democratic candidates for Congress carried the 21st by 12,460 votes. In 2017, Phil Murphy won the district by 1,503 votes.
Donald Trump lost the district by 19,759 votes in 2016; Mitt Romney won by 9,614 in 2012.
Bramnick has seen his total number of votes decline.
At the same time, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) had little trouble holding the State Senate seat in the same district. Kean was re-elected in 2017 by 6,456 votes. He received 2,296 more votes than Bramnick.
In mid-term elections, he has gone from 27,322 in 2007 to 25,303 in 2011 to 20,024 in 2015. In gubernatorial years, Bramnick has dropped from 45,439 in 2009 to 38,556 in 2013 to 34,283 in 2017.